The US Navy (USN) will likely expand its use of the Bell-Boeing CMV-22 Osprey tiltrotor beyond the current role of resupplying aircraft carriers at sea.
The naval variant of the Bell V-22 tiltrotor is replacing the Northrop Grumman C-2A Greyhound turboprop for sustainment missions including transporting personnel, mail, supplies and high-priority cargo from land to aircraft carriers at sea – a mission formally known as carrier onboard delivery (COD).
The navy declared initial operational capability on its CMV-22 fleet in December 2021, with plans to acquire 48 of type. In addition to the COD role, the USN has previously suggested it could use the Osprey fleet to move cargo to expeditionary bases on land.
That proposal now appears to be gaining momentum. Speaking at the Sea Air Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland on 4 April, several of the USN’s top aviators endorsed the idea of expanding the CMV-22’s role.
“A game changer for us,” is how Vice Admiral Kenneth Whitesell describes the platform.
As the USN’s “air boss”, Whitesell is the operational commander of all naval air forces. He says the navy has already completed two deployments with the CMV-22, and is preparing for a third.
The naval variant of the Osprey has brought such an added degree of capability over the legacy Greyhound that the USN is now “rewriting” the tiltrotor’s official concept of employment, according to Whitesell.
“It is no longer going to be a COD platform,” the Grumman F-14 and Boeing F/A-18 pilot says.
While the Osprey’s cargo payload of up to 2,721kg (6,000lb) is less than the Greyhound’s 4,536kg, the CMV-22 boasts a range of 1,150nm (2,130km) and the ability to take off and land vertically, without a runway.
The C-2A has a range of 1,000nm, according to the navy.
“It completely changes the logistics support aspect,” says Rear Admiral Andrew Loiselle, director of air warfare for the USN.
“It really now opens up any place to that can land as a logistics head,” he notes of the CMV-22’s vertical take-off and landing capability. “So in this notion of the contested logistics, that concept is an absolute game changer.”
The configuration of the Osprey also allows it to deliver large aircraft parts to a carrier under way, including the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine that powers the navy’s Lockheed Martin F-35C stealth fighter.
Of particular value to USN planners is the CMV-22’s substantially expanded fuel capacity – a full 50% more than the US Marine Corps (USMC) MV-22 medium-lift variant of the type. The USN variant of the Osprey uses a redesigned fuel system that includes wing tanks and enlarged sponson tanks that protrude from the hull.
“It’s meant to be able to support us in the Western Pacific,” Whitesell says.
He says the navy, in conjunction with the expeditionary focused USMC, plans to use the CMV-22 to support distributed operations around “places not bases”.
Retired Admiral William Gortney, who moderated the discussion of naval air strategy at SAS, concurred the CMV-22 will be “more of an inter-theatre logistics than just COD”.
However, the navy’s Ospreys could be pressed to do more than just haul cargo and transport personnel.
Whitesell suggests the CMV-22 could be outfitted with communications equipment to stand in for the USN’s airborne early warning platform – the Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye – if one those aircraft is unavailable.
“This is a great time to be a CMV-22 guy,” the air boss says, referring to the aircraft’s pilots and operations personnel.